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   Chapter 10 COLLATERALS

Shakespeare's Family By C. C. Stopes Characters: 4795

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

John Shakespeare had other sons than William. There were three-Gilbert, Richard and Edmund. These all died comparatively young, and none of them was married.

Edmund, the youngest child of John and Mary Shakespeare, seems to have been the only one who followed his eldest brother to London. He also chose the stage as a profession, but we never hear of any success. From London registers we know that on August 12, 1607, in the parish of St. Giles', Cripplegate, was buried "Edward, the base-born son of Edward Shakespeare, Player," and that on December 31 of the same year was buried within the Church of St. Saviour's, Southwark,[211] "Edmund Shakespeare, Player," "with a forenoon knell of the Great Bell."[212] The poet paid every honour he could to his brother.

Gilbert, born two and a half years after William, seemed often to have been his practical helper and representative in Stratford-on-Avon. Some writers have imagined that because the clerk added the word "adolescens" to the burial entry in 1611 of "Gilbert Shakespeare,"[213] that it could not have been this Gilbert, but some other, probably a young son of his. But there is no record of a marriage, of the birth of any child, of the death of his wife, or of his own death, if this entry be given another translation than the natural one. We may well imagine the clerk did not fully understand the meaning of the word. Shakespeare often satirizes the ignorant use of learned terms at his time. There is no saying what hazy notions might have floated through the writer's brain of the age or position of the defunct. He would be no worse than a Mrs. Malaprop if he intended "adolescens" to represent "deeply regretted."

Of the last surviving brother, Richard, born 1573, we know nothing, except that he died February 12, in the year 1612-13.[214]

The negative evidence of the registers is supported by the negative evidence of the Shakespeare wills; there is no mention of a Shakespeare in the wills of William Shakespeare (so anxious to perpetuate his family and his name) or in those of his descendants.

We may therefore hold it as proved that there are no collateral lines of Shakespeares descending from the poet's brothers, and therefore none entitled to bear John Shakespeare's famous coat of arms without a new grant. Yet we find some bearing the arms, and many claimants of such descent. Sir Thomas Winnington

asks if the Shaksperes of Fillongly are a branch of the poet's family, as the well-known armorial bearings appear on the tomb of George Shakespeare, who died there in 1690.[215]

The Rev. Mr. Dyer wrote to Mr. Duncombe from Coningsby, November 24, 1756: "My wife's name was Ensor, whose grandmother was a Shakespeare, descended from the brother of everybody's Shakespeare."[216] Such claims may be explained by a natural error. Another John Shakespeare has often been mistaken for ours, and real pedigrees have been traced back to him.

But there were collateral descents from Shakespeare's sister. The only person who might have impaled the new Shakespeare arms, had he himself borne arms to make this possible, was William Hart, the hatter, who married Shakespeare's sister Joan, and who lived in Shakespeare's old house in Henley Street, and died a few days before the poet.[217] The pedigree of the Harts is printed in French's "Shakespeareana Genealogica,"[218] and need not be repeated here. The Rev. Cornelius Hallen[219] also gives a genealogical table of the various connections, and thus provides us with the collateral descent nearly up to date.

Though the early members of this family seem to have been content with a very modest position and very unromantic occupations, the later members have become more ambitious.

The Harts thought of contesting the will of Lady Barnard, who, with her mother, Mrs. Hall, had cut off the entail, or rather altered, as they thought, the proviso of Shakespeare's will regarding his heirs. But, as she left them the Henley Street house, and a contest for more would have been attended with certain expense and uncertain results, they on full consideration let the matter drop.

Even from this family sprang claimants for lineal descent. On a tombstone in Tewkesbury appears: "In Memory of John Hart, the sixth descendant from the poet Shakespeare, who died January 22, 1800, aged 45," etc.


To face p. 113.


[211] Registers of St. Saviour's, Southwark.

[212] Churchwardens' Accounts, St. Saviour's, Southwark.

[213] Stratford-on-Avon Registers.

[214] Stratford-on-Avon Registers.

[215] Notes and Queries December, 1865, Third Series, viii. 501.

[216] Ibid., Sixth Series, xii. 424.

[217] April 17, 1616.

[218] P. 296.

[219] See "Descent of Hallen and Shakespeare."

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